The club’s managing director Lee Charnley was one of several men arrested at 6.30am yesterday morning as 180 tax officers swooped in a co-ordinated dawn raid that also involved West Ham and properties in France.
Investigators spent most of the day at St James’ Park and the London Stadium, paid for by taxpayers, as well as both club’s training grounds.
Officials also arrived at Stamford Bridge later in the morning, but the club were keen to stress they were not under investigation themselves. “HMRC has requested certain information which the club will provide,” a spokesman said.
The scope of the investigation is believed to be centred around transfer dealings with French clubs over the past seven years. Both clubs have been involved in a number of signings from France in that period, particularly Marseille, although French football authorities later confirmed the club itself was not under any suspicion.
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The surprise move comes three months after a Parliamentary Committee revealed 43 players, 12 clubs and eight agents were the subject of “open inquiries” by HMRC.
High profile individuals are being targeted as part of a general clampdown on tax evasion and avoidance. Misuse of image rights are believed to be part of the concern, together with potential discrepancies between reported sale price and buying price between clubs – money which HMRC believes might be taxable.
Clearly yesterday’s move is just the start of a bigger clampdown and an HMRC statement pulled no punches in serving a warning to others.
“This criminal investigation sends a clear message that, whoever you are, if you commit tax fraud you can expect to face the consequences,” they said.
Charnley, 39, has been working as Newcastle owner Mike Ashley’s right-hand man since being promoted from club secretary in June 2014. He has been at the club 18 years, serving at a number of levels.
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He is largely believed to be the man behind persuading Rafa Benitez to come to Newcastle, with the Spaniard clinching an immediate return to the Premier League by masterminding a 4-1 win against Preston on Monday night.
The Premier League last night said that no action would be taken while the investigation was in progress, which by its nature could run into months or years.
Newcastle and Charnley deny any wrongdoing, and dependent on the success or otherwise of any prosecutions, the Premier League board will take a view on whether a separate independent football investigation is appropriate or whether the matter can be dealt with by the board.